A frog in a jar

What’s on a frog’s mind?



Did you know that millions of amphibians are traded each year around the world for the pet industry? Yet, like reptiles, their capacity for feelings like distress and fear is commonly neglected or unappreciated.

In 2022, World Animal Protection’s researchers once again did a deep dive into the scientific literature, this time to find what evidence there is for amphibian sentience, and to see how these sentient beings are being treated across the wildlife trade chain.  

The resulting study, Frog in the well: A review of the scientific literature for evidence of amphibian sentience, which was published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, highlights the wide range of studies that have documented and utilized amphibian sentience in their work. 

Interesting examples of frog sentience: 

  • Learning and memory: Certain frogs have been shown to have the ability to learn and remember. For example, one study suggests that Brilliant-thighed poison frogs (Allobates femoralis) rely heavily on their spatial memory to safely relocate their tadpoles from land to previously discovered water sources. They also use olfactory cues (smell) to discover new aquatic locations.  
  • Communication: Frogs are able to communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations, including calls for territorial defense, courtship, and warning of danger. Brazilian torrent frogs (Hylodes japi) for example, have been found to use a combination of tactile, vocal, and visual signals for communication. This includes squealing, head bobbing, and alternate arm waving to get each other's attention – what a sight that would be! 
  • Parental care: There is a remarkable variety among amphibian species and the habitats they live in, which require adaptation. Frogs and toads are known to exhibit some of the most diverse parental strategies. One study even found that these strategies can changed depending on available resources, proving that frogs are much more complex than you may think! 
  • Play: Play fighting is a well-studied type of play in animals, of which there have been documented observations across a wide variety of species, including amphibians. This behaviour is important for animals, particularly young animals, to practice and develop necessary motor, social, and survival skills. Dendrobatid (dart poison) frogs are social animals that have been known to engage in wrestling bouts (play-fight), irrespective of sex. 
  • And more* 

*Animal sentience is an ever-evolving science. There is still so much to learn about amphibian sentience and much more research is needed to fully understand the extent of their mental capacities and how they experience the world. 

Amphibians are sentient animals, capable of a range of emotions and feelings including pain, anxiety, and even altruism.  

However, their feelings in the wildlife trade, including the pet trade are typically not considered. They are often traded both illegally and legally, with insufficient care for their needs, resulting in high mortality rates, and long-term compromises to their welfare. 

A glass frog

Due to their unique appearance, glass frogs (pictured above) have become popular in the international pet trade, this is one of the reasons their wildlife populations are in decline and their trade is now regulated through CITES. | Photo: webguzs 

Amphibians are sold as pets, used in experiments, and traded for food all over the world. Many people still think they are incapable of suffering, but we are working hard to show the world that this is simply not true.  

All animals can suffer in the wildlife trade and will suffer when they are kept in poor conditions with no regard for their welfare. 

Help end all wildlife exploitation 

You can help end the unnecessary suffering of amphibians (and other wild animals) by not supporting the destructive wildlife trade.  

Act now

Hero image credit: Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror 

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